is a small settlement
, whose earliest origins go back to a fountain that was frequently used by nomadic Nama hunter-gatherers who also gave the place its name – which roughly translates as “snake fountain”. When Adolf Lüderitz and his partner Heinrich Vogelsang purchased land off the Nama (see under Lüderitz
), Aus fell into the wide strip of land obtained.
From then on Aus developed into a trading post, a stopover between the coastal Lüderitz and the inland. Agricultural developments at Aus accompanied this.
At the time when the Shark Island concentration camp
in Lüderitz was in operation (1905-1907), prisoners from there were used as forced labourers in the construction of the railway line between Lüderitz
The railway line gave Aus a boost and it became an important provisions and trading post – which in a way it still is today (see below)! Soon Aus had not only a railway station, but also a church, two hotels and a police station.
At the beginning of WW1
the Germans constructed a radio station at Aus with two 165 feet (50m) high masts. This was used to intercept British exchanges in South Africa and elsewhere as well as for jamming those connections. The station was dismantled at the end of March 1915, as the “Schutztruppe” withdrew.
After in July 1915 Germany
’s South West Africa colony surrendered to Commonwealth troops from South Africa
, a POW camp
for captive Germans was established near Aus. Around 1500 German POW
s were held here, overseen by a garrison of ca. 600 South Africans. The place name triggered a black-humoured line amongst the Germans: “in Aus ist’s aus” (“aus” in this sense means ‘done with’, ‘finished’).
Initially inmates were housed in tents, but before long the prisoners worked hard to construct better housing. They made bricks
and built small sturdy houses
, with floors below ground level, to protect against the often harsh weather that Aus is known for (very hot in summer, very cold in winter – in fact Aus is one of the few places in Namibia
ever to see occasional snow!). They even constructed a clock tower, maintained gardens, had a cinema and theatre as well as sports facilities. The camp was closed in May 1919 after the Treaty of Versailles paved the way for a peace settlement. Not much is left of the former POW camp today (see below
), but the site was declared a National Monument in 1985.
In late 1918, the Spanish flu spread through the camp, killing some 70 inmates and 60 of the garrison. Most of these are buried in a small cemetery on a hillside to the north-west of the camp. Today this is still looked after by both the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and its German equivalent of the “Kriegsgräberfürsorge”.
, the South African Air Force had an airfield at Aus – there’s still one (unpaved) for small aircraft north of the former POW camp (see below
After Namibian independence in 1990, Aus opened up to tourism
, and in 1995 a local businessman created the chalets at Geisterschlucht and Eagle’s Nest, still in use as tourist accommodation today (in fact I used one of the Eagle’s Nest rock chalets for an overnight stop when I was in the area; see below
The story of the car wreck
south of Klein-Aus Vista is a bit murky, but commonly told thus: the car, a Hudson “Terraplane” built in Detroit in 1934, was apparently used by two diamond thieves who tried to smuggle a cache of stolen diamonds out of the Sperrgebiet (‘restricted diamond mining area’ – see Kolmanskop
!). But at this location police caught up with them and both thieves were killed in the subsequent gunfight. Allegedly the diamonds were never found, though, and local legend has it that the ghosts of the two smugglers still roam the canyon by moonlight looking for their booty. Hence the canyon is called “Geisterschlucht” (‘Ghost Canyon’).
is a significant refuelling station, with its 24h petrol (gas) station and adjacent shop. There’s still a Bahnhof Hotel (‘station hotel’) opposite the train line offering accommodation and lunch stops. And at Klein-Aus there’s a large tourist lodge called Desert Horse Inn, which also manages the older stone chalets in the Geisterschlucht and at nearby “Eagle’s Nest”. By the way, the name has nothing to do with Hitler
’s infamous Eagle’s Nest at Obersalzberg
. The identical name is probably just coincidence.
What there is to see:
In Aus itself look out for the obelisk-shaped monument to the German
emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II
; this was erected by the townspeople in 1913 for the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the Kaiser’s reign, as two plaques on the sides of the base of the monument declare, one in German, one in English. A third plaque simply says “Wilhelm II. 1988-1913”. A fourth plaque states the date of the opening of the railway line from here to Lüderitz
. On two sides someone had written “Nuts” above the plaques. And indeed it’s quite an odd relic to have a monument honouring the German Kaiser of before WW1
in this place in the former colony of South West Africa. I guess for German royalists this would be a must-see spot.
The war graves cemetery
near Aus is in fact also a regular cemetery still in use, as some newer graves testify. At the gate are signs for both the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the German equivalent, the “Kriegsgräberfürsorge”. A third sign announces a “visitor book”, presumably located inside the on-site little white chapel, but I found that locked when I was there. A somewhat faded plaque in front of the chapel provides some historical details about WW1
in South West Africa and the establishment of a POW
camp (see below). Further into the cemetery you come to the rows of German graves. Quite a few of the dates of death noted are between October and November 1918, so these are the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic of that time (see above
). Further in the cemetery still are the parallel rows of Commonwealth graves of the South African soldiers. Again many dates of death are from the time of the Spanish flu.
Of the former POW camp
to the south-east of the cemetery not much remains. There’s a memorial stone by the small car park. The marble plaque on it is in three languages, German, Afrikaans and English, and briefly states that after the capitulation of the German forces in WW1
the regular soldiers and some officers were quartered at the POW
camp here until in 1919 the peace treaty of Versailles was signed.
Near the memorial stone is a low stone ledge with all manner of rusty debris on display, including old tins of food and some broken glass bottles. Across the area of the former camp you can make out some low remnants of brick walls, or just parts of the foundations, note especially the ones below ground level (see above
). In the distance you can see a small railway station. At the time of my visit I saw a small freight train there.
The bullet-riddled car wreck
is in a really remote spot inside the Klein-Aus Vista private park adjacent to the “Sperrgebiet” (the ‘forbidden zone’ of the restricted-access diamond-mining area of southern Namibia
– see Kolmanskop
); but this is publicly accessible. This car, a 1934 Hudson “Terraplane”, allegedly used by diamond smugglers until they were caught at this pot and killed in a violent shoot-out with the police, was apparently just left here afterwards. The wheels, windows, bonnet and part of the engine are missing, but otherwise the car looks in not too bad a shape. Yet it is totally perforated by bullet holes (reminded me of Bonnie and Clyde’s car at the Museum of Crime and Punishment
). It gives a good impression of the firepower of the diamond-smuggler-hunting police. It’s quite a stark sight to behold in this very lonely location indeed. There’s a small information panel that also relates the legend of the alleged ghosts of the diamond smugglers still “haunting” the nearby “Geisterschlucht” (‘ghost canyon’). So those who manage to believe in such things (I do not belong to that category) might want to stay in the self-catering chalet of Geisterschlucht and check this out for themselves (if the panel is to be believed, make it a moonlit night!).
All in all
, these fours sites in and around Aus are by no means top dark-tourism sights, but worthwhile add-ons en route to or from Lüderitz
. I’m glad I made the effort of seeking all four of them out.
ca. 70 miles (112 km) as the crow flies east of Lüderitz
in southern Namibia
, and nearly 300 miles (480 km) from the capital Windhoek
, off the main B4 trunk road.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: quite remote, but not too difficult to find; free.
Aus is just off the main B4 trunk road between Lüderitz
and Keetmanshoop and thus easy to get to. The other individual dark spots outside Aus itself are more or less short drives away; but you have to have your own vehicle to get to those, ideally a sturdy car that can handle rough gravel and sand tracks.
The Kaiser-Wilhelm II monument is the easiest to find, as it’s right in the middle of Aus. After you’ve taken the turn-off from the B4 and crossed the railway line turn left and follow the main road towards the centre with its hotel, fuel station and shop, but immediately turn off to the left on to a rough sandy track heading back to the railway line. The white monument is by a shady tree shortly before you get to the railway tracks.
To get to the war graves cemetery, take the F705 road that branches off the B4 main road to the north-east of Aus itself. It’s actually signposted, “Commonwealth War Graves 1.3 km”, on a brown tourist sign by the B4, in both directions. Just after the turn-off the tarmac ends and the track splits into two. Take the right branch here and carry on up the slope until the cemetery with its small white chapel appears on the left. You can park right by the gate next to the chapel. Note that the track gets a little rougher the closer you get, so an AWD or 4x4 is probably advisable. I spotted a driver of a 2-wheel-drive car parking at the bottom of the slope and rather walking.
The former POW camp is to the south of the B4 a little bit further east from Aus still. Take the turn-off on to the C13 in the direction of Rosh Pinah and after half a mile (750m) take the little track branching off to the left. This is for the Aus airstrip. But instead of heading there, take the track south from the intersection; there is also a little sign here saying “POW” but it can be overlooked. After about 500m (a third of a mile) a track branches off to the left (again marked by a little sign). This takes you in ca. 150 yards straight to the official memorial stone, where you can park. The rest of the site has to be explored on foot (and with care – closed shoes and long trousers recommended).
The bullet-riddled car wreck is the furthest from Aus. You first have to get to Klein-Aus a few miles to the north-west of Aus itself. From the B4 take the turn-off south marked Klein-Aus Vista which is also where the Desert Horse Inn is. But instead of following signs to there just after crossing the railway tracks, take the track to the right that runs west parallel to the rail tracks. After a couple of minutes, signs point towards the Campsite, “Geisterschlucht” and “Eagle’s Nest”. There’s a cattle gate here that you have to open yourself – and make sure to close again after you’ve driven through. Shortly after that the track forks and you have to follow the right branch towards “Eagle’s Nest” and “Geisterschlucht”. Eventually you come to another turn-off to the left leading to “Geisterschlucht”. Take that and carry on until the car appears right by the side of the track on the left. You can park right there.
All four sites are theoretically freely accessible at all times, but only during daylight hours makes sense, of course.
If you want to stay overnight in Aus, there are a few accommodation options, including the popular Bahnhof Hotel (station hotel) right in the centre. At Klein-Aus, the Desert Horse Inn is an alternative, and especially the associated self-catering stone chalets of Eagle’s Nest. You can request a dinner/braai (BBQ) pack at the Desert Horse Inn to take along; and in the chalets there’s an honesty bar with beers and wines).
Time required: The monument in Aus only takes a minute, the cemetery perhaps 10 to 20 minutes, the former POW camp between a couple of minutes for just reading the plaque or maybe ten minutes to up to half an hour exploring the foundations. The car wreck again only needs a few minutes. In total, doing all four sites in one go will require, with driving time, around two hours.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Some travellers use Aus or Klein-Aus as a base from where to go to Kolmanskop
, without moving on to Lüderitz
. But it would be a shame not to take in that unique town with its many German colonial-era remnants. Moreover, Lüderitz is the necessary base from where to go on tours into the “Sperrgebiet” (‘forbidden zone’), the restricted-access diamond-mining area that stretches out from Lüderitz all the way to the border with South Africa
. One such tour combines the ultra-desolate ghost town
with a visit to the spectacular rock-arch of Bogenfels. Another tour allows access to the even larger ghost town at Elizabeth Bay
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The area west of Klein-Aus is famous for its population of wild horses that somehow manage to survive in the desert (hence they are also known as ‘desert horses’). At Garub, a waterhole has been provided for the horses and a shelter nearby allows for observation of the animals without disturbing them.
The whole desert scenery around Aus is quite spectacular. A superb spot for immersing yourself in a totally middle-of-nowhere desert feeling is staying at the isolated chalets of the so-called “Eagle’s Nest” (see above
). There’s no Wifi, no phone reception and I didn’t even get a GPS signal. On clear nights this is a wonderful location for stargazing, given the practically zero light pollution of this lonely place.
- Aus 01 - train line
- Aus 02 - Kaiser Wilheilm II monument
- Aus 03 - from 1913
- Aus 04 - church
- Aus 05 - cemetery
- Aus 06 - German war graves sign
- Aus 07 - Commonwealth war graves sign
- Aus 08 - German war graves
- Aus 09 - Commonwealth war graves
- Aus 10 - headless angel
- Aus 11 - eroded cross
- Aus 12 - former German POW camp near
- Aus 13 - historic photo of the camp on display at Kolmanskop
- Aus 14 - rudiments of foundations
- Aus 15 - not much left
- Aus 16 - rusty relics
- Aus 17 - nearby train line
- Aus 18 - wreck of a car used by diamond thieves
- Aus 19 - perforated in a shoot-out
- Aus 20 - horses near Klein-Aus
- Aus 21 - evening in the desert